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Slowing Growth Signs Everywhere, Not Just in China

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Slowing growth signs are everywhere, not just in China.

You know it's a story when The Wall Street Journal puts it on its front page: "Slower China Growth Signals Days of Miracles Are Waning," chock full of man-on-the-street laments about slowing business in everything from apartments to knife fish.

Still, 7.7 percent first-quarter gross domestic product is hardly a disaster, but you wouldn't know it by the commentary from several analysts, including JPMorgan Chase, Nomura, and Mizuho, all of which lowered estimates for China economic growth. The main takeaway: 7 percent to 8 percent GDP growth is the new normal.

Even South Korea is being affected. Separately, Goldman Sachs cut its 2013 and 2014 GDP forecasts for South Korea.

The International Monetary Fund just cut the U.S. and global growth forecast. It now sees full-year U.S. growth at 1.9 percent versus a prior forecast of 2.1 percent in January. The IMF also cut its 2013 world growth estimate to 3.3 percent, down from its January expectation of 3.5 percent.

And commodity giant Rio Tinto, in response to weak commodity markets, is initiating major cost-cutting measures. Rio Tinto brought in a new CEO in January. Oddly, they are continuing to expand the supply of iron ore despite evidence there is already excessive supply.

Oil hit a low of $86.06 this morning, its lowest level since Dec. 14, 2012.

Still it wasn't all slow-growth. W.W. Grainger reported earnings above expectations and raised the lower end of its 2013 sales and earnings guidance to reflect its strong performance in the quarter. Grainger is the first of the multi-industry companies I watch to report: it supplies safety and security supplies, lighting products, power tools, pumps, and maintenance supplies to many companies, with about 25 percent of sales outside the U.S.

Elsewhere:

1) Housing starts came in over 1 million for the first time since 2008, at 1.036 million well above expectations of 935,000. Building permits were light, 902,000 vs. expectations of 945,000.

While housing may be doing well, the office market is still glutted. Mack-Cali Realty, an office real estate investment trust, cut its quarterly dividend by 33 percent in an effort to save cash. The REIT said weak demand for office space is impacting its business.

2) Target warned first-quarter earnings would miss expectations. True, the weather was strange in March (cool weather and lots of snow). Remember the quarter for most retailers end in April, so there is a couple more weeks to go.

3) How bad is the stock trading business? Getco, which is in the process of acquiring Knight Capital Group, said in a regulatory filing that its profit dropped 90 percent last year. There is one of the main reasons behind the merger: cost savings in a time when the industry is shrinking. Volumes have been dropping since spiking in 2008 and 2009 on the financial crisis, average consolidated volume at the New York Stock Exchange for the first quarter of 2013 was again lower than the same quarter last year.

4) I said yesterday that the CME would likely raise its collateral requirements for gold, and it did so today, raising not only collateral requirements for gold, but also for silver and other precious metals.

By CNBC's Bob Pisani

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  • A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

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